The Church of the Nazarene believes it is time to amend its language to reflect the denomination’s commitment to gender equality. The equality of men and women has been a value of the denomination since its inception in 1908. Now it is time to let the language speak this truth.
I wish this proposal would have come through a few years earlier, it probably would have saved some frustration. I’ll get to that later.
If you have no idea what I am talking about, I will try to make it simple. For centuries we have used the masculine word ‘man’ or ‘men’ when speaking of both male and females. Rather than choose a noun or pronoun referring to both men and women, the default has been to use the male version. An example is given in the proposed amendments to the Church of the Nazarene’s Manual:
RESOLVED that Manual paragraph 27.1, item 3, be amended as follows:
27.1 First. By doing that which is enjoined in the Word of God, which is our rule of both faith and practice, including:
3. Being courteous to all [men] people
Take a second look if you didn’t catch it the first time. It used to say “being courteous to all men.” The proposed change is that it read, “being courteous to all people.” Quite a difference.
The other proposed change looks as follows:
5. Seeking to do good to the bodies and souls of [men] people.
Sounds completely different, doesn’t it? The implications for our imagination to include women is much improved. The words call to mind more than a male image. Women are no longer subject to or limited by the language of masculinity.
Back to my wish. Using inclusive language was a requirement of the seminary I attended. Part of the grade awarded our papers was the use of gender inclusive ways of referring to others. It was all new for me at this point in my life, but I understood. So, I did everything I could to practice it in all areas of my life. Including church.
Being married to a youth pastor meant I would spend countless hours with teenagers. If I was going to spend every Wednesday Night, Sunday morning, and Sunday night with them, I thought I might as well teach them something. Something I was learning, like using gender inclusive language.
Ooooh, what I thought was a good thing turned out to be a bad thing for our pastor. Let’s just say he wasn’t appreciative of my approach to language. To him, inclusive language wasn’t necessary. More so than that, inclusive language was nearly heretical to him. I lost that battle, and walked away with some wounds to prove it. Had this proposal been given before then, maybe some frustration could have been saved. Maybe.
Even more than my own frustration, though, is the negative experience of women in ministry and in our churches who have endured male-dominated language for so long. The power of language is greater than words that come out of your mouth. Language influences the way we understand and act in our word. For 106 years, our language has been counterintuitive to a commitment to gender equailty.
That was then, and this is now. I thank God for where we are today. Gender inclusive language is our new norm.
What other amendments do you think we should make to our language?